99 Pounds Of Soul (Ann Peebles)

If you ever attended the First Baptist Church in St Louis in the 1950’s & 60’s I’m sure that you were in for a treat. Minister of music Perry Peebles directed the Peebles Choir, founded by his father & which, over the years, included his wife Eula, their 11 children & many of the extended Peebles family. The seventh of the 11 siblings, Ann, was blessed with an outstanding voice. She was a natural performer on the Gospel circuit &, born in 1947, was of a generation where the transfer to secular Soul was easier than it had been for those 10 years older than her.

 

 

Image result for ann peebles willie mitchellAnn Peebles sang with bands in St Louis clubs before, on a trip to Memphis, impressing Gene “Bowlegs” Miller with her take on the Jimmy Hughes ballad “Steal Away, a 1964 hit from FAME studios in Muscle Shoals. “Bowlegs” (great name) referred her to Willie Mitchell, head of A&R at Hi Records, after a run through of the same song Ann found herself with a recording contract before she was 21 years old. Hi was known for its instrumental hits. Trumpeter/band leader/producer Mitchell had his own very groovy success in 1968 with the King Curtis tune “Soul Serenade“. Now Willie was looking to expand the label’s roster, matching new vocal talent to his ideas about how Soul went. As it says in the small print in the ad (trust me it’s there) for Ann’s 1971 45 “Somebody’s On Your Case” “Produced by Willie Mitchell & it’s pure Memphis”.

 

There was no instant success for Peebles. The label took time to school Ann in recording & promotion. Her debut LP “This Is…” (1969) was heavy on cover versions of recent hits. Two fine singles in 1970 made an impression but there was little new material & the “Part Time Love” LP (1971) included 6 tracks from that first record. “Straight From the Heart” was released in the same year &, as can be heard from “Slipped, Tripped & Fell in Love” & “99 Pounds”, she was finding her own strong, individual, mature style. There were others at Mitchell’s Royal Studios who were hitting the spot too.

 

 

“99 Pounds” was written for & about Ann by Don Bryant, a staff member at Hi assigned as her mentor. The pair did not instantly bond. Ann thought that she knew how to sing & Don thought that his own recordings were being neglected. This 3rd LP included 3 songs written by the singer (2 co-written with Bryant). In 1973 they co-operated on the song that defines Ann Peebles career. A year later the couple were married.

 

Image result for ann peeblesAt this time the walls of Hi Records’ office was filling up with gold discs as Al Green, another Mitchell discovery, became the new Soul sensation. The house band, the Hodges brothers, Charles (organ), Leroy (bass) & Teenie (guitar) with drummer Howard Grimes. augmented by the Memphis Horns (over from Stax) found a warm, melodic, still funky groove that became the new hit sound. These musicians are all over every Ann Peebles record, driving the song along, complementing her assertive lyrics. The Hi Rhythm Section are an instantly recognisable unit & Man, they’re good !

 

 

“I Can’t Stand the Rain”, we all know that one, bringing back sweet memories. A Peebles/Bryant composition with assistance from local DJ Bernie Miller it is the title track of a monumental LP, an update on the Southern Country Soul of the late 1960’s, a Hi-point of that label’s fine discography. In 1974 the record was not a major hit, the single just making the US Top 40, the LP #155. It was though recognised as an enduring piece of resistance. In 1978 a German disco version hit the US Top 20 & the UK Top 10, Tina Turner included a version on “Private Dancer” a 20 million selling album & our man Lowell George, off of Little Feat, made a good fist of it on his one solo LP.

 

Image result for ann peeblesThere are 7 Ann Peebles LPs from this period & there’s some high quality moments. “Beware” is from “Tellin’ It” (1975), take a look at that clip, a singer in her prime & how was that not a hit ? Willie Mitchell thought that Ann didn’t fulfill her potential, that she was not committed to becoming a star. I’m sure that as label boss he wanted her to be the female Al Green. The public’s tastes in African-American music were changing, they wanted to dance themselves dizzy. Ann was never as lyrically brazen as Millie Jackson, not as Disco as Donna Summer. There are some great Pop-Soul tracks (“A Love Vibration”, “Dr Love Power”) but she just did that thing she did & never was able to make the connection that transferred into major sales.

 

 

Ann took a break to raise her son in 1978. 10 years later she returned, on Willie Mitchell’s new label, but the electro-Soul sound didn’t really compare with her previous work. In 1989 the Waylo Soul Revue came to Europe. “A Memphis Soul Night” featuring Ann, Otis Clay & others confirms that there was a pretty good gig that I missed. She continued to perform & there are more records. Her reputation endured & her music was sampled by many Hip Hop artists. There’s a version of Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” on the Joe Henry project “I Believe In My Soul” (2005) that absolutely does the trick.

 

Ann Peebles didn’t enter the pantheon of female Soul singers like Aretha, Diana & Gladys. She came around a little later than those legends & her brand of Southern Soul was no longer in the 1970’s mainstream. There’s more to her music than “I Can’t Stand the Rain” & “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down”. The records she made for Hi have all been re-released & if you are tempted by one of the many compilations then make sure it’s a double one because her “Best of” will not fit on the one LP or CD.

 

 

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No Static At All

I must have been good in 1977. At Christmas Santa brought two brand new copies of “Aja” by Steely Dan & some spiffy new headphones. That was me sorted until New Year. The group, now a duo, had released an album a year since 1972, it would be 3 more years before the next collection. “Aja” was good enough to get us through that long wait, still is. Not sure what happened to the cans.

 

 

 

Image result for walter beckerWalter Becker, who died this weekend, has been part of my musical landscape for 45 years now. From the compendium of finely crafted pop songs on the debut “Can’t Buy A Thrill” through to the my kind of Jazz Lounge of “Gaucho” any album that I hook up to is better than most everything else I hear. I have grown up with their music & their developing sophistication has helped me to grow up. Steely Dan’s literate, considered, often acerbic & cynical lyrics of the high life & the lowlife described a world that I was perhaps a little too familiar with. There are so many fine lines but an intro like “Five names that I can hardly stand to hear. Including yours and mine & one more chimp who isn’t here” makes “Bad Sneakers” a desert island favourite.

 

Image result for walter beckerThis is not an obituary, anyone who once heard “Do It Again” or “Reelin’ In The Years” seems to have had their say this week. All I want to say is that Walter Becker’s memory will be eternal & Walter, thank you for the tracks of whack.

 

Random Notes (August 2017)

OK, Summer break’s over… back on your head ( the punchline to a very old joke). Recently the going got weird so, as any fool knows, the weird turn Pro. As Life took a turn written by a Russian existentialist the blog took a back seat. Touting my favourite music seemed to be an inappropriate gewgaw but, y’know, I like doing it & I’ve certainly not stopped listening. Right, as Fyodor Dostoevsky used to say, “What the fuck”…Is this thing on ?

 

 

Single of the month is this glorious racket from Cleveland’s finest Pere Ubu. It’s been quite some time since I saw singer David Thomas & his crew perform music from the future at the Russell Club/Factory in Manchester. Those first two records from 1978, “The Modern Dance” & “Dub Housing”, angular, challenging post-Punk collections were so outstanding (& still sound great) that any music the group has released since merits consideration. Breaks have been taken, the line up has changed while David Thomas abides. In 1989 “Waiting For Mary” was one of the songs of that year, showing that the avant-garage experimentation combined with the ability to rock was a fine blend.

 

Image result for pere ubu monkey bizness“Monkey Bizness” is a taste of something fine from the upcoming LP “20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo”. The video features the classic 1990s “Funhouse” pinball machine, a little complicated for my old-school arcade taste but still a quality table. I’ll be looking forward to hearing the rest of the record, Ubu’s first since “Carnival of Souls” (2014), in September. A young person walked in while I was enjoying this track at high volume & wondered what the heck was going on…that’s good right ?

 

This month, like most everyone I know, I handed over some of my hard-earned to the local multiplex & they let me see “Dunkirk”. Christopher Nolan has always been worth the money since the low budget “Following” (1998) & the startling “Memento” (2000). He makes blockbusters now but his version of a previous British exit from continental Europe (a retreat which like most of our defeats has been portrayed as heroic) was never going to be a Speilbergian war epic. We got a sparse, impressionistic cinematic experience, emotionally anchored by a restrained performance by Mark Rylance as the middle-aged captain of a small rescue boat, which I found immersive & enjoyable.

 

 

Image result for goon last of the enforcersI was not going to miss the return to the screen  of Doug “The Thug” Glatt the pugilistic protagonist of “Goon” (2011). Any Ice Hockey (as we Europeans call it, to distinguish it from an entirely different sport played on grass) movie will be compared to “Slapshot” the 1977 comedy/drama directed by George Roy Hill & starring Paul Newman, one from the top shelf of sport films. Glatt (Sean William Scott) is no Reggie Dunlop. His not-too-bright amiability, his talent to hit somebody/anybody giving him somewhere he belonged, made for an endearing & enjoyable story.

 

This time around writer Jay Baruchel directs, the humour is still coarse, the exposition broad. In “Goon: Last of the Enforcers” Doug is now married to Eva (the lovely Alison Pill), too punched out to play with his oddball teammates on the Halifax Highlanders, replaced by Anders Cain (Goldie & Kurt’s boy Wyatt Russell who seems to have been busy since that gaming episode of “Black Mirror”). He turns to old rival Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber, the great Ray Donovan, excellent as another washed-up brawler in the capable biopic “Chuck”) for help. The violence is gratuitous, the story often sentimental but it was good to spend time in Doug’s company & to see how he is getting on. I’ve seen the film described as “hockey-flavoured comfort food” & sometimes that’s just the refreshment you need of an evening.

 

 

 

Image result for syreeta albumOf course it’s never all new stuff round here & the LP I have mainly been listening to this month is a classic from 1972. Syreeta Wright married Stevie Wonder in 1970. Together they wrote the songs for “Where I’m Coming From” (1971) Stevie’s first step towards independence from Motown, the beginning of a decade of musical brilliance. The marriage lasted just 18 months but they worked together on “Syreeta” (1972) her debut LP. The hook up with Tonto’s Expanding Headband (Robert Margouleff & Malcolm Cecil) brought new synthesizer textures to the music & they are around for this record. Some of the tracks are a little sweet, it’s not Deep Soul & it’s not Detroit, more a modern Soul similar to Minnie Riperton’s “Perfect Angel” (1974) Related imageanother LP that Stevie & his crew worked on. The charming opening track “I Love Everything About You” sets the standard while the closer,the scorching Funk throb of “To Know You is to Love You”, is good enough to stand with the many great tracks created by Wonder. The pair collaborated on a more commercial follow up which made a bigger impression but, this month at least, I’m going with “Syreeta”.

One Great Song Three Great Records (Dedicated To The One I Love)

Image result for the mamas and the papas dedicatedThe first time I heard “Dedicated to the One I Love” was in February 1967 when the Mamas & the Papas released the song as a single. The year since the arrival of their debut LP “If You Can Believe Your Eyes & Ears” had been golden for the four part harmony group. Apparently John and Mitchy were getting kind of itchy just to leave the folk music behind. With Denny Doherty & Cass Elliott the Phillips’s sang like a band of angels. “California Dreaming” & “Monday Monday”, instant classics, blended  West Coast sunshine with grown up songs. The four voices were such a natural fit they could have recorded excerpts from the phone book & it would have sounded fine.

 

“Dedicated to the One I Love” was the group’s fifth Top 10 hit in 2 years. The Mamas & the Papas epitomised Los Angeles bohemian chic & the musicians of Laurel Canyon were displacing the movie stars of Hollywood as the city’s cool set. I’m not going to be able to leave this without declaring that in 1967 Michelle Phillips, “Dedicated…” being her finest recording, was quite possibly the most beautiful woman in the world. You don’t believe me ? Then watch this…

 

 

Related image“Dedicated to the One I Love” & the Mamas & the Papas were such a perfect fit I assumed that John Phillips had written this one too. This was not the case, the song had been a hit for the Shirelles in 1961.  “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, the first big one of many for the songwriting team Goffin & King was one of theirs. “Soldier Boy” that was another one. The 4 Jersey Girls pioneered the girl-group sound, a big part of 60s American Pop. In 1966 I loved the Crystals, Ronettes, Shangri-Las & the graduates of the Motown charm school. The Shirelles seemed a little over by then, I had never heard their version of “Dedicated…”. What did I know ? Back then I had never even heard of the 5 Royales.

 

 

Image result for the 5 royales dedicated to the one i loveNow that’s how it originally went. In the days before Rock & Roll the 5 Royales were a pretty big deal. The group, from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, took up permanent residence in the R&B Top 10 between 1952-54. At Apollo Records in New York they were skilled at taking Gospel groups & steering them towards Doo-Wop. The Selah Jubilee Singers became the Larks & the Royal Sons Quintet, the 5 Royales. These early hits featured the strong lead vocal of Johnny Tanner & a tenor sax break. Band member Lowman Pauling had a facility for writing fine songs & he was soon to prove that he had another 6 strings to his bow.

 

Image result for lowman paulingThe group’s sound was updated when the saxophone was joined by Lowman’s guitar. His stinging, economical, innovative style marked the 5 Royales out from the crowd. Young guitarists like Steve Cropper, later to be such a presence at Stax, & John Fogarty, off of Credence Clearwater Revival, certainly listened & imitated. Lowman continued to provide great material. In 1957 there was another burst of success with songs that were not only popular but influential. “Think” was recorded by James Brown, “Tell the Truth” by Ray Charles. For “Dedicated to the One I Love”, co-written by Pauling & producer Ralph Bass, Johnny Tanner’s younger brother Eugene stepped up to add the sweetness that the song needed & made it such a popular, enduring classic. The swagger from Lowman Pauling’s guitar is what makes it outstanding. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is not a concept that much concerns me but when the 5 Royales were ushered through the door in 2015 I was happy to see them recognised.

 

 

 

In 1968 Stax Records of Memphis found themselves at the wrong end of a deal with Atlantic. In September 1969, to counter the loss of a stellar back catalogue, the label released 27 new LPs. One of them, “Hot Buttered Soul” by Isaac Hayes sold 3 million copies, inspired a whole lot of Orchestral Soul & kept Stax in the record-making game. Producer Jo Bridges set up the subsidiary We Produce label & brought along the Temprees, a trio who had been friends from high school in Memphis.

 

Image result for the tempreesThere are 3 Temprees albums, all large helpings of sweet, symphonic Soul. In 1972 it was the vocal groups up in Philadelphia, the Gamble & Huff stable, O’Jays, Bluenotes, the Stylistics who were getting the hits. Then there was the Chi-Lites & always the Temptations. The lead falsetto vocals of Jabbo Phillips stand comparison with Russell Thompkins of the Stylistics but the Temprees never achieved similar success. Their unhurried take on “Dedicated…” is a delight, a great vocal supported by Stax’ house orchestra, Isaac Hayes’ back-up, the Movement. Never fails to hit the spot this one…”Ooh Baby !”.

 

Image result for 5 royales dedicated to the one i loveSo here’s 3 versions of a great love song from 3 different decades each one a fine example of a style current at the time. Then there’s the Shirelles US Top 10 record, Bitty McLean’s reggaefied UK hit, the title track of a Linda Ronstadt LP, a live tribute by Laura Nyro, a champion of New York R&B.  Lowman Pauling died in 1973, he’s buried in Winston-Salem next to his brother Clarence Paul, mentor of Stevie Wonder, co-writer of “Fingertips”, “Until You Come Back to Me”, “Hitch Hike” & many others. Man, that’s a talented family. The man whose name is on these & many other versions saw very little money from his composition. At the time of his death he was working as a night watchman at a New York church. Lowman now has a reputation as a star guitarist (try “The Slummer the Slum”, an early use of feedback) but something is not right there.

Random Notes (June 2017)

Oof ! At the start of June our government was telling us that the Leader of the Opposition would take us back to the 1970’s & was an IRA sympathiser. A new generation of voters, raised on & unconvinced by Austerity, replied “When?” & “Who?” then exercised their democratic right in favour of a politician they perceived as principled & fighting their corner. Jeremy Corbyn may not be Prime Minister but the Tories, anticipating plain sailing to an increased majority, are a sinking ship, their “strong & stable” banner in tatters. My own cynicism ( a trait I thought to be an attractive one) was refreshingly challenged by the optimistic younglings of my company. This new passion found a focus when terrorist attacks led to criticism of cuts to emergency services & a tragic fire in London exposed policies which favoured profit over respect for the rights of others to fatal effect.

 

I’m no Corbyn cultist though there is much to admire about his successful acampaign in the face of the vilification from the media. I would prefer a united Labour Party confident enough to articulate & endorse the concerns of their support rather than wait for a hopeless, rudderless, all-but minority government to run aground as they blindly attempt to negotiate the choppy waters of our exit from the EU. Whatever the outcome, something has changed.

 

That’s enough politics & certainly too many maritime metaphors. Let’s put some sounds on…

 

 

My musical month was always set to be dominated by “The Nashville Sound” the new much-anticipated (well, by me) new LP from Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit. It seems that I’m not the only one & it’s selling more copies than the previous 2 award winning collections “Southeastern” & “Something More Than Free”. Whether Jason is rocking out with the band or getting reflective with his acoustic guitar, his wife Amanda on fiddle & harmonies, his mature, assured songs hit the spot more accurately than anyone else around at the moment. That heart-wrenching line “I’m just lucky to have the work” from the title track of “Something…” is still tearing me up now here’s another 10 tracks to have around the house & to get to know.

 

Image result for the nashville sound jason isbellThis time around Isbell is stretching himself lyrically. He & his protagonists, mainly Southern American men, are living in Trump’s America, something needs to be said about the frustration & anger that brings. “Hope the High Road” & “White Man’s World” are not political with a capital P, his character studies are accurate & sympathetic. Any false steps, there is sometimes a slight lyrical clumsiness, is offset by great contributions from all the musicians involved. Hey I’m being picky here. The last 2 records have been very good company, taking their  time to reveal their full depth & qualities. “Cumberland Gap”, “If We Were Vampires” & “Tupelo” are  are already welcome guests. I look forward to becoming more familiar with the rest of “The Nashville Sound”.

 

 

I’ve been an admirer of Steve van Zandt since he was consiglieri to Bruce & the E Street Band before doing the same job for the Soprano family. Hell, I even hung around “Lilyhammer” long after it had jumped the reindeer. Now his immaculately curated Underground Garage (every show archived somewhere around here) is my Interweb radio show of choice. Little Steven’s Rock & Roll sensibility & taste sit very well with me & it only took a listen to a couple of tracks off of his new LP “Soulfire” & I was on it (new fave phrase, courtesy of the hilarious Count Arthur Strong) like a German Shepherd on chicken !

 

Image result for steve van zandt james gando;fini“Soulfire” is infused with Steve’s abiding belief in music’s redemptive quality. Older songs, 2 that he gave to Southside Johnny, are spiritedly resuscitated. “Ride the Night Away” reclaims that great opening riff to “I Found Love” a co-write for Lone Justice. Strong new songs cover similar ground, there are 2 covers, a Blues from Etta James & a spectacular version of James Brown’s “Down & Out In New York City” (from the movie “Black Caesar”). The bold, brassy Spectoresque Wall of Sound, employed by Steve & Springsteen back then, is made loud & clear by master engineer Bob Clearmountain & it’s so good to hear the Persuasions, a classic vocal group, back on record. No new ground is broken on “Soulfire”, it’s traditional American Rock done well by one of the guys who set the standard & it’s glorious.

 

 

Image result for kwyet kinksOK, it’s not all new music round our end, it never is. This month it’s been the Kinks that have made it to to the front of the stack & stayed there. Back when the money from my paper round didn’t stretch to expensive 12″ vinyl discs record companies offered EPs, Extended Plays, 4 tracks for less than double the price of a 2 track 45. Of course the Beatles led the way with  “Twist & Shout” (1963) & “Long Tall Sally” (1964), a great collection of previously unreleased recordings. Both sold more than many hit singles. The Stones matched these with “Five By Five” (1964), new cuts from sessions at Chess studios, & “Got Live if You Want It ” (1965). EPs were mainly recycled material, a chance to buy a couple of singles you had missed. The Kinks were one group who had songs that never made the A-side but were more than album filler.

 

Image result for well respected man kinks“Kwyet Kinks” came around in September 1965, a year when the group had 5 Top 20 hits. Their early energy had converted R&B influences into aggressive, punk Rock & Ray Davies, still  just 21 years old, was developing a more introspective songwriting style. Both Summer hits “Set Me Free” & “See My Friends” combined a wistful lyric with a distinctive, inventive guitar sound. The oh so good, oh so fine “Well Respected Man”, a first excursion into sly social commentary, was picked from the EP by offshore pirate radios & played to an audience of over 10 million as often as any new hit. The Kinks’ record label & management doubted the group’s new direction but their fans were already on it. “Wait Till the Summer Comes Along” was the first song to be solely credited to the younger Davies, guitarist Dave. It would be a couple of years before Dave made his own hit solo records but the talent is there to see on this one. The other 2 tracks “Don’t You Fret” & “Such A Shame” were not saved for “The Kink Kontroversy”, their 3rd LP.  In 1965 the Davies brothers, Pete Quaife (bass), Mick Avory (drums) & their producer Shel Talmy were mining a very productive seam.

 

Image result for dedicated kinks epThe following year “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, a sharp lampoon of Carnabetian Swinging London, was the first in a series of acutely observed, distinctively British, classic Kinks hits. Pye, never slow to capitalise on their back catalogue, released the “Dedicated Kinks” EP, the title hit, “Set Me Free”, “See My Friends” & the raucous, rocking “Till the End of the Day”. Now that sounded like value for my hard-earned to me. A good reason for a Saturday, the one day I was holding folding, visit to the local record shop.

That Would Be Ecstasy You And Me Endlessly (The Young Rascals)

Back in the mid-1980s my friend Mitchell’s new job came with a van which he got to keep when he wasn’t punching the clock. As a non-driver I really didn’t mind public transport (OK, the cold, wasted hours at bus stops could be irksome) but looking at the world’s greatest city through a windshield, cruising with your best buddy & the correct sounds playing made life a little better. Our music of choice was a cassette of the soundtrack of “The Big Chill” (1983) Lawrence Kasdan’s poignant Baby Boomer ensemble drama. Not all of the classic tracks from the 1960s used in the movie made it on to the album, it was mostly Motown & Atlantic Soul. One track, probably the one we knew the least, caught the moment, raised our energy, went straight to rewind & repeat.

 

 

“Good Lovin'”, a 2 minutes 28 seconds rush was the 2nd single to be released by Atlantic’s blue-eyed Soul boys the Young Rascals. Originally recorded by Lemme B Snell, the Rascals had probably come across the version by the Olympics. Their first eponymous LP, a recreation of their exciting live shows at the Barge, Long Island, which first attracted the label, was packed with cover versions, just one of their own compositions. Under the tutelage of future label Veep Arif Mardin & expert engineer Tom Dowd the group produced themselves. The songs written by organist Felix Cavaliere & singer Eddie Brigati  didn’t match the #1 success of “Good Lovin'” but were good, getting better & kept them in the frame as one of the most popular groups around.

 

Image result for young rascalsThe Rascals became “Young” to avoid legal dealings with an established variety act. Onstage their knickerbockers & Peter Pan collars gave them an overgrown schoolboy look. They were good-looking men & over here we saw them as US teen idols who, like Paul Revere & the Raiders, relied a little too much on a visual gimmick. In the mid-Sixties the UK’s Pop Art was our biggest export. We were busy in Carnaby St, had our own take on R&B, our own new young sensations coming up. The Young Rascals were closer to the dynamic Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. We pretty much ignored that great group too.

 

 

Image result for young rascals traffic 1967 uk tourIt was “Groovin'” (1967), you know it, carefree, the feelgood hit of the Summer of Love, a better anthem  than Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco, which finally registered in the UK. They came over to tour with Traffic & Vanilla Fudge (who, I think, blew the tour out after just one date) & that sounds like a good night. The “Groovin'” LP was packed with hit singles. “A Girl Like You” was a Rascals’ rhythm rocker, “How Can I Be Sure”, with Eddie on lead vocal, was a baroque waltzing delight. It sure sounded like a hit to me (it was in the US) & I bought the 45, on the red Atlantic label, but not many other Brits did. It sounded like a hit again when Dusty Springfield released a version that missed out. In 1972 David Cassidy did take the song to the #1 spot but I wasn’t really listening.

 

The group had ditched the school uniforms & the cover of the “Once Upon A Dream” LP (1968) confirmed that the Rascals were no longer “Young”. “Sergeant Pepper’s…” had set a new standard for Pop music & classically trained Felix Cavaliere was up for the challenge. With its sound effects, spoken word,. whistles, bells & sitars, the LP certainly embraced the new spirit of inventiveness & imagination. The one hit 45 “It’s Wonderful” is just that. At times the simple, soulful melodicism of the group loses out to orchestration & arrangement but “Once Upon  Dream” is a very interesting record which doesn’t get the love or attention it deserves when American music of the time is remembered. Whether the world & their audience were ready for the Psychedelic Rascals was another matter. Later in the year “Time Peace”, a greatest hits collection, reached #1 in the album charts. Perhaps people, preferring those optimistic, energetic, well-made tunes, still regarded the Rascals as a great singles band. They could still do them.

 

 

In the late 1960s music was changing & so was America. The Rascals, New Jersey boys raised on R&B, affected by the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy & Martin Luther King, insisted on playing on integrated bills before non-segregated audiences. The group spent a little more time on their next LP. Previously they had pretty much recorded & released everything they had written. “People Got To Be Free”, a taster for “Freedom Suite”, was another irresistible anthem which gave the Rascals their third #1 US hit. “Freedom Suite”, like many double albums, would have made a great single LP. It’s been remiss of me not check for Dino Danelli. The space offered by playing in a 3-piece band showed Dino to be a great Rock drummer but a 13 minute drum solo, acceptable from Ginger Baker of Atlantic’s new Rock act Cream, was a little indulgent. The 15 minute long track taking up the whole of Side 4 was a bit much too.

 

Image result for young rascalsBy 1970 Atlantic had signed Led Zeppelin & Crosby, Stills & Nash. The Rascals were no longer their headline, hit-making act. There were 2 more LPs on Atlantic, more songs solely written by Cavaliere, less promotion reflected by less success. There’s fine music across both records but Eddie Brigati left during the recording of “Search & Nearness” (1971) then guitarist Gene Cornish followed soon after. The Rascals who released “Peaceful World”, their first LP for Columbia, just 2 months later were Felix, Dino & two new members. Again, despite the quality of the music, Jazz Improvisation Rascals failed to find a sizeable audience.

 

 

Image result for young rascals posterThe Rascals were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Steve Van Zandt off of the E Street Band & the Sopranos. His endorsement & affection for fellow Jersey Boys inspired a concert/theatrical combo, the first full reunion for 40 years, which was warmly received. The Rascals’ love of Rhythm & Blues got them started  &  the energy & enthusiasm they injected into their version of it was unmatched (see above). They changed with the times & made LPs that will reward investigation if you’re not already on them. Back when we were young & they were “Young” their hopeful, optimistic even innocent music caught the moment as well as just about anyone around.

New Music From Derry (Summer 2017)

It is with great pleasure that I am able to include this clip on loosehandlebars, it’s been a while coming & it is certainly worth the wait. We have championed the Gatefolds since their first live gig in March 2013. Not only because my friend Joe Brown is the bass player but also because, in the fine tradition of guitar bands out of Derry, Northern Ireland, they made a most acceptable racket. A major highlight of a memory-packed first night in Derry was seeing the band play live. I’m now happy to call all 4 Gatefolds friends, it’s been a pleasure to follow their progress through the videos made by Derry documentarist Jim Cunningham & the receipt of care parcels containing new recordings. Now we have the first professionally shot & edited filming of the band in action & it’s very good indeed.

 

Image result for the gatefolds derry

Photo:Mickey Rooney

THE GATEFOLDS – DISAPPEARING ACT

 

Image result for the gatefolds derryAt the end of April I made the 300 mile journey from my home to the Western edge of Europe to experience my second Gatefolds gig. The guys, a proper Garage band, worked hard in drummer Sean’s garage before returning to playing out & it showed. The guitar interplay of Jason & Fergal flows & surges at all the right times, the rhythm section, Joe & Sean, bring it in subtly & bring it home powerfully. It’s the unity, the 4 of them knowing how the Gatefolds should sound, that is the most impressive. I look forward to hearing studio versions of the new songs.

Over at BBC Radio Foyle presenter Stephen McCauley’s “Electric Mainline” show champions independent music & the local scene. He invited the Gatefolds along to play 2 of their tracks & “Disappearing Act” was caught for posterity. My trip to Donegal was totally worth it (I got a tune dedicated to me, thanks guys). Click on the link & you’ll get a taste of the rocking good stuff.

 

 

 

The best way to get the lowdown on a new young band is to ask a real young person. Keeping it in the family Emmet Brown, son of Joe kindly accepted our invitation to join the ‘handlebars’ karass. Emmet is the Antichrist.  (“What ?”…Really ?”…OH !) Strike that, Emmet is an anarchist…phew !

 

Image result for touts derry band“The word ‘touts’ may have a significantly different meaning in the north than it does most places. Defined as ““someone who betrays a confidence. To squeal, to tell tales, to inform the police of illegal activities”. With a name like that they’re already off to a brave start. With their debut EP “Sickening & Deplorable” its not hard to see where their influences lay. Channeling the power of legends such as the Clash while having the speed of American punks such as early Descendents.
I saw them playing in The Camden Assembly (Formerly the Barfly) in April. I was instantly blown away by their intensity and power. Guitarist and Vocalist Matthew would try to engage with the audience between songs but no one could make out his thick Derry accent. I found this hilarious as I looked around the room at confused faces.
“Saturday Night Scumbag” from their debut EP has to be one of the most fierce and explosive songs to come out of Derry and is exactly what the youth of our city needs. It’s great to see so many young music fans going to gigs and starting bands in Derry. It’s about time!”

 

 

Image result for paddy nash and the happy enchiladasI hope that Paddy Nash doesn’t mind me describing him as a stalwart of the Derry music scene as he’s a big man & I’m in bad shape. Way back at the end of the 20th century his group The Whole Tribe Sings made a single “Happy” which was used in a beer commercial, got them gigs in the US & it could have been, even should have been. After a long break Paddy returned with the Happy Enchiladas as his backing band & there are 6 albums of their sparky, Rock-Folk around. I often encounter Paddy’s name & music through his involvement with local musicians & many community-based projects.

 

This month a solo LP, “Gate Fever” is released. 10 tracks recorded in 6 days it’s a mature collection, sometimes introspective, sometimes retrospective, vignettes & character studies accurately captured. If the songs are a little downbeat well, these are the times we live in & Paddy’s lyrics are studded with warmth, hope & beauty. I feel that I’m listening to an Irish version of John Prine & that’s no bad thing. There’s an interesting video for “We Are The Dead” just up there. If you click here you can listen to “Gate Fever” & buying it is just one more click away.

 

Only In It For The Mony Mony ? (Tommy James and the Shondells)

Over here in the UK Tommy James & the Shondells were one-hit wonders & what a hit it was. In August 1968 the urgent, immediately catchy “Mony Mony” was toppermost of the poppermost for 3 weeks but little else by the group caught the attention of record buyers. Across the Atlantic Tommy & the boys were a much bigger deal, enjoying 9 Top 20 hits between 1966-69. They were prominent in interesting times & Tommy chronicled his own experiences in his autobiography ” Me, the Mob & the Music” (2010). It was a story he had wanted to tell for a long time but didn’t feel comfortable going into print until after the death of Vincent “the Chin” Gigante, head of the Genovese family. Fuggetaboutit  !

 

 

Image result for tommy james hanky pankyTommy James first recorded “Hanky Panky” with his Niles, Michigan high school band. In 1965 renewed interest in Pittsburgh, where bootleg copies sold out, brought the record to national attention. By July 1966 19 year old Tommy, with a new gang of Shondells, had the #1 record in the US. The song was written in 1963 as a throwaway b-side for the Raindrops by New York young guns Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry. The boys took  a basic R&B tune into the Garage & made it even more primitive. They were surely too young & dumb to know they were making a million selling record & that’s the beauty of it.

 

Related imageThe group were signed to Roulette records run by Morris Levy, a New York scenester since the 1940’s. Morris knew guys with imaginative nicknames & equally colourful criminal records. He was also an expert on the connection between controlling the publishing rights of his roster & his bank account. He kept his new hit act busy, 3 LPs & a “Best of…” compilation were released in 1967. Levy was not really a record man, he left the group & their producers to themselves in the studio. It happened that Tommy James & the Shondells had the happy knack of making songs that grabbed your ear when they were played on the radio & made a lot of people want to hand over their hard-earned in exchange for a 7″ vinyl disc.

 

 

There was a stutter after the first hit, the copycat “Say I Am (What I Am)” stalled outside the Top 20 & “It’s Only Love”, a piece of fluff covered in the UK by Tony Blackburn, our lamest DJ, bombed. “I Think We’re Alone Now”, you know it, an instant Powerpop classic, put them back on track. Working with writer/producer Ritchie Cordell the 5 singles released in each of 1967 & 68 varied in quality but all had their appeal. “Mony Mony”, painstakingly assembled in the studio, is supercharged Garage Rock, everything kept simple & done very well. I was 15, dancing to this at the weekend youth club, my record collection small enough to investigate the b-side & learningthat “1-2-3 & I Fell” sounded like a hit to me.

 

 

Times were changing. You can see it in the clip the band made for “Mony Mony”. Everyone has more hair. Is that a Nehru jacket Tommy is wearing ? The love beads have been shared around. Tommy spent time helping the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey. On his return to New York he knew that the emphasis was now on the album rather than the 3 minute single. The group were established enough to produce themselves, prolific enough to release 3 LPs in the next 18 months. First up was “Crimson & Clover”, sleeve notes written by the losing candidate, which included 2 massive hits, the title track (#1) & “Crystal Blue Persuasion (#2). “Crimson & Clover” is a perfect Psychedelic Pop single, better than the Lemon Pipers, better than the Electric Prunes. Innovative effects extract maximum value from a monumental guitar riff & Tommy’s vocals. The LP veers across a range of styles & helped by the hits made the Top 10. Tommy James & the Shondells seemed to have cracked the album market.

 

Image result for tommy james and the shondellsThe title track of “Cellophane Symphony” went the full lysergic. Tommy had got hold of a Moog synthesizer & he was going to use it. This time there’s an ambition that is probably not matched by the material. “Sweet Cherry Wine” is an obvious smash & I really like “Makin’ Good Time”, an old style Tommy James rocker which was only a b-side. The 3 comedy tracks are too many, maybe 3 too many & the LP failed to make an impression.

 

 

Image result for tommy james and the shondells“Travellin'” (1970) got back to where they once belonged, a Blues-Rock simplicity that the band had always done very well. This clip is promoting the single “Gotta Get Back To You” & it’s not just the haircut that makes Tommy look rough. To keep up with the hectic touring & recording schedule Tommy’s drug of choice was amphetamines. After a gig in March he collapsed & was actually pronounced dead. Thankfully he survived & after recuperation the Shondells were no longer attached, Tommy James was a solo act. Those solo LPs are for another time. The memorable “Draggin’ the Line” put him back in the Top 10, there was another hit in 1979.  Tommy James was a 23 gold singles, 9 gold or platinum albums wonder &, he reckoned, around $30 million short of what Morris Levy owed him. In 1987,as an example of the sturdy, enduring nature of his songs, teen idol Tiffany took “I Think We’re Alone Now” (not as good as the Rubinoos) to #1 then was replaced by Billy Idol’s version of “Mony Mony” (not as good as the original).

 

Tommy is still around & Morris Levy isn’t. A 3 year long FBI investigation into the alleged infiltration of organised crime in the record business put his name in the frame for charges of extortion which got him a 10 year stretch. His health was failing & he died in 1990 before he could report to prison. There has been talk that Tommy’s book could be made into a movie. It’s quite a tale.

 

The group are unfairly labelled as a “Bubblegum”. “Hanky Panky” gave them an audience which they wanted to maintain. Tommy showed talent, inventiveness & above all adaptability to accommodate the rapid shifts in the music of the time & make commercially successful records. It’s not just the hits, the LPs contain plenty of interesting music too. Tommy James & the Shondells were never going to change the world, they didn’t want to but they deserve greater consideration in any review of 1960s American Pop music. I’ll finish with Prince, a man who always had an ear for a great song, & his grandstanding version of “Crimson & Clover”. Brilliant.

 

 

 

 

 

Honky Tonk Angel (Emmylou Harris)

We were all, well myself & a few friends, a little in love with Emmylou Harris before we had seen even  a photograph of her. Gram Parsons & the Fallen Angels never crossed the Atlantic so, in 1973, all we had was his debut solo LP “GP”, a perfect expression of the beauty, honesty & purity of Gram’s Country vision. Emmylou provided backing vocals on the record & stepped forward for two sparkling duets. Move aside George & Tammy, Conway & Loretta, as good as you are “We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes” & “That’s All it Took” sounded like there were new Sweethearts of the Rodeo in town.

 

Related imageBy the time the follow-up LP “Grievous Angel” was released in January 1974 their professional & personal relationship had become closer. The byline was to read “with Emmylou Harris” & she was to appear on the cover. Unfortunately, in September 1973, Gram had overdosed & died aged just 27. His widow Gretchen removed the credit, the photo & the intended title track “Sleepless Nights”, a haunting duet written by Felice & Boudleaux Bryant. The posthumous LP reinforced the talent & vision of Gram & the strength of his partnership with Emmylou. Another better known song by the Bryants, “Love Hurts”, is as sad & beautiful & gorgeous as music can get. As fans losing Gram was a shock despite knowing of his penchant for the High Life. Back then good people were dying from that shit. We could only imagine the effect that losing her mentor & friend had on Emmylou.

 

 

One of the many things that made Gram’s solo records outstanding was the quality of the musicians taking part. The sessions for “GP” had involved members of Elvis Presley’s touring band & that’s a job you get for what you know not who. The full band came around for “Grievous…” & their commitment to this music showed when 3 of them not only joined the sessions for Ms Harris’ solo debut “Pieces of the Sky” (1975) but agreed to accompany her on live dates. “Pieces…” was a 100% classy operation & a template for future records with an immaculate song selection across the traditional & modern Country canon & a Beatles cover, “For No One” all perfectly sung. “Boulder to Birmingham”, the only song co-written by Emmylou, was really saying something, catharsis for her grief. There are some very good tunes on the record but “Boulder…” has deservedly become one of her signature pieces & I’ve got to include it here.

 

Image result for the hot band james burton“Elite Hotel” was released in the last week of 1975 & in the New Year Emmylou & her, aptly named, Hot Band came over to Europe for the first time. We were regulars at rock concerts, had seen some of music’s great stars & this was a special night. Elvis’s boys were there, bass player Emory Gordy Jr, arranger/pianist Glen D Hardin, a former Cricket (“Don’t Ever Change”…oh yes!), veteran of countless sessions & the “Shindig” TV show house band. His fellow Shin-digger James Burton’s guitar playing had helped shaped the sound of Rock & Roll. Every insertion he made on his Pink Paisley Telecaster a model of taste, precision, economy & wonder. John Ware on drums, Hank de Vito, pedal steel & young Texan Rodney Crowell, who had contributed a song to the first record, completed a stellar line-up. It must have given Emmylou confidence to have such strong onstage support. With her own talent & personality she certainly wasn’t in the shadows. I thought that I had some stuff about Gram sorted out but when she & her boys performed evocative versions of “Sin City” & “Return of the Grievous Angel”, songs I never thought I would hear done so well, look, I think I had a cold, I certainly had something in my eye…sniff.

 

 

“Elite Hotel” & “Luxury Liner” followed the same pattern. They were both #1 Country LPs & part of a string of 7 consecutive Gold records. James Burton stopped touring while continuing to show out at the studio. His replacement was Brit Albert Lee, already known as a fine player & the transition was seamless. Emmylou could sing the phone book & it would sound just fine, she continued to tip her stetson to GP & the choice of songs remained as strong as ever whether from the Louvin Brothers or Townes Van Zandt. Two years after that first concert I saw her play again, promoting “Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town” (1978). This time I was ready & enjoyed a wonderful evening, beautiful music beautifully played. (Perhaps I’m overusing that word today but hey, it’s true).

 

Related imageEmmylou did take some detours & extended her range with Bluegrass & then “The Ballad of Sally Rose” (1985) where she & her then husband Paul Kennerley wrote all the songs. In 1987 “Trio”, her collaboration with Dolly Parton & Linda Ronstadt, a long time coming what with schedules, labels & whatever, a whole lot of harmonic loveliness, was nominated as Album of the Year at the Grammies. Perhaps there came a time when there were enough Emmylou Harris LPs in your collection. Those first records set new standards for modern Country music which were difficult to match nevermind surpass. In 1992 at a damp, desultory, sparsely attended Crystal Palace Bowl her set lacked the intimacy of an indoor gig & the old songs sounded, well, a little old.

 

 

Form is temporary but class is permanent & in 1995 her 18th studio LP turned up on many of my friends turntables. “Wrecking Ball” was an update of the early records, well chosen contemporary songs, Neil Young, Dylan, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams & Gillian Welch…I did say well chosen, given an atmospheric, innovative working by producer Daniel Lanois (Eno, U2, Dylan). Emmylou’s vocals are a little more grainy, suiting the melancholy of the record. Her subsequent recordings are still getting nominated for awards & deservedly still winning them.

 

Image result for emmylou harrisWhen Emmylou began her solo career the Gram Parsons legend was not yet sewn into Rock’s Rich Tapestry & straight Country music was for the straights. What she had was her Hot Band & the voice of a honky tonk angel. Her talent to reach the emotional heart of a song has made her a legend, a Queen of Country. She has worked with so many fine artists, it’s a list & it’s a long one. I could have chosen so many tracks for this post, the quality is so high. As I’m the King round here a track from “Stumble Into Grace” (2003) makes the cut. “Little Bird” is a collaboration with Canadian sisters Kate & Anna  McGarrigle, a trio from my idea of Heaven. Just perfect.

 

While I’m here “Cowboy Angels” is a live radio broadcast from 1975. Emmylou & the Hot Band were still a new unit & they are a little less polished than on the studio recordings. It’s like listening to the best bar band in the world. In 1979 she recorded a duet with Charlie Louvin, the surviving brother of an act whose harmonies inspired Gram & Emmylou to make such beautiful, enduring music together. The EmmyLouvin Brothers…it’s right here !

 

 

Oh yeah, did I mention that I’m still a little in love with Emmylou Harris ?

 

 

Random Notes (May 2017)

The days fly by & this month the UK has endured an election campaign instigated, ostensibly, by a government wanting to mask its bluff & bluster in negotiations with our former EU partners, more likely hoping to exploit the disarray of any opposition in England & Wales. The Tory party will remain in power (I’ve been wrong before) but the flakiness of their “strong & stable” mantra in the face of a half-baked “Dementia Tax” on the sick & the dead & a Labour manifesto which, at least & at last, promoted an alternative to austerity will prevent the landslide victory anticipated & hoped for by the government & most of our media puppets (“Crush the Saboteurs!” Oh fuck off!)

 

Image result for manchester tony wilson we do things

 

This week’s horrific massacre in Manchester, a great city which has shown the empathy & community that is the best of Britain, will inevitably highlight the issue of national security. Already Mr Corbyn is being attacked for pointing out that the disastrous intervention in Libya contributed to chaos, anger, frustration & the rise of a new focus for militant Islam. The murder of innocent people enjoying a concert by their favourite Pop star is inexcusable & heartbreaking but atrocities are occurring across the Middle East in the name of the West’s War On Terror, in the cause of strength & stability. Robert Fisk is a journalist who I trust & respect…

“As long as we bomb the Middle East instead of seeking justice there, we too will be attacked. But what we must concentrate upon, according to the monstrous Trump, is terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. And fear. And security. Which we will not have while we are promoting death in the Muslim world and selling weapons to its dictators. Believe in “terror” and Isis wins. Believe in justice and Isis is defeated.”

OK, here’s some music…

 

 

Almost the best of the month, stick around that comes later, any new song by Bunny Wailer raises my spirits. As the last of the Wailing Wailers Jah Bunny is the keeper of the flame & he represents the great & influential group with integrity & style. “Baddest” is a Rub-a-Dub rework of Peter Tosh’ anthem, first recorded in 1967, “I’m the Toughest” in alliance with Dancehall queen Ruffi-Ann. Like everything Bunny releases on his Solomonic label it has a freshness & a vitality. He is a musical great who knows the spirit of Reggae &, at coming up 70 this year, is still able to capture it. “Baddest” may not be up there with the best music he has made but it could be the Feelgood Hit of the Summer. ♫Any Dub that you can play I & I can play it better♫ Yes Sir!

 

 

Image result for daniel romano modern pressureA new Daniel Romano record is always a big deal round our yard & even though “Modern Pressure” has not been here for long toes are tapping & choruses becoming familiar. Mr Romano is prolific, an album a year in the last 3 & a couple more from Altered Shapes, his Punk offshoot band. He’s become a bit of a shape-shifter too, the traditional Country, three chords & the truth about heartbreak, of his early records has all but disappeared. The lovely “Roya” would easily fit on those records while an expanded musical palette, Dylanesque organ swirls, treated guitars, everything louder makes “Modern Pressure” a Country Rock album. “The Pride of Queens” sounds like an epic to me, the closing, urgent “What’s To Become of the Meaning of Love” instantly appeals & the poppy “When I Learned Your Name” sounds like Nick Lowe/Brinsley Schwarz & that’s a good thing.

 

Like the best records last year’s “Mosey” took its own good time to reveal all its delights. At first it seemed to be quite a switch by Romano but it has become the album of choice for journeys of any distance, a collection of good songs which come together as an atmospheric whole. “Mosey” will still get played round here. Daniel Romano is a very talented songwriter & musician, his restless streak is matched by his inventiveness. Wherever he wants to take his music my interest is piqued enough to want to follow. I have high hopes that “Modern Pressure” will become a new favourite.

 

 

I’ve had my fancy-schmancy Internet powered TV for some time now. It’s an idiot box of electrickeries most of which I neither grasp nor have need of. The 7 (that’s 7!) channels of 24/7 sport are enough to sustain a sense of wonder about the Modern World. So it was more luck than judgement that the appropriate buttons were pressed to record the full series (8 episodes) of the 2005 BBC production of “Bleak House”. Fortuitous perhaps but it provided a televisual experience to rival this year’s superb “Taboo”, another of the Beeb’s finest.

 

Image result for phil davis smallweedI love Charles Dickens, what’s not to…, his satire, his social conscience his unmatched balance of sentiment & melodrama & his finely drawn parade of eccentric characters. It was all there on the screen. “Bleak House” was written as a serial & the series was originally shown in 15 30-minute parts, a pot-boiler yes but certainly not a soap opera. Writer Andrew Davies is the doyen of literary adaptors, it was beautifully filmed & the extensive cast is a delight. It’s a list, Anna Maxwell Martin (Esther), Gillian Anderson (Lady Dedlock) & young Carey Mulligan (Ada) led the way in Dickens’ only book with a female protagonist. Charles Dance was a dastardly Tulkinghorn, the contributions of Burn Gorman (Guppy of Kenge & Carboys), Phil Davies (Smallweed, “shake me up Judy”), Alun Armstrong (Inspector Bucket) & Johnny Vegas (Krook) were all perfectly pitched. I’m going to include Michael Smiley (Squod) here because I have recently enjoyed Ben Wheatley’s “Kill List” & “Free Fire” & he shines in both of them. Actor of the month.

 

I’m not the biggest fan of period drama but I do enjoy the grimy streets of London Town seen in “Bleak House” & “Taboo”. I appreciated too Whit Stillman’s film “Love & Friendship” (Kate Beckinsale “always watchable”). Either these things are getting more modern or I’m becoming more old-fashioned. Oh Christ, it’s the latter isn’t it ?